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6 Useful software tools for textbook authors

Software ToolsIn a recent discussion about software tools for textbook authors in the Academic Writing & Publishing discussion circle in TAA’s online member community, anatomy and physiology textbook author Kevin Patton shared six software tools that he uses when writing his textbooks in addition to MS Office, a few tools from Adobe Suite, and FileZilla for FTP transfers:

1. Goodsync file synchronization and backup software. I have a network drive in my home office that keeps a backup of my writing files that reside on my “working” disk drive. That backup happens in the background periodically throughout the day using Goodsync software. I also set up a nightly backup to a cloud drive (iDrive, but there are many others). ALWAYS back up your files frequently. I say this from tragic experience.

2. Bulk Rename Utility. Using this tool, I can go into a folder of files and change all the “A2345_C001.doc” and similar to “Essentials2e-Ch-02-draft1” by instructing the program to change parts of the file names in ALL the files I’ve selected in the folder. This helps me keep my drafts organized with consistent naming. I can copy my “original” files from the previous edition into a new folder, then rename them all with the new edition and as first draft of the revised edition.

3. Evernote and Instapaper clipping software. I use Evernote and Instapaper to clip items from websites, documents and emails for my “content file” that I keep for purposes of updating my books during their next revision cycles.

4. Fences desktop organizer. I’m using Windows 7 right now and I’ve added Fences to rope my desktop icons into labeled categories so I can get to them quickly. More useful, though, is the ability to post whole folders, with its files listed, on my desktop. I change these when I complete one project and move to the next, so my “most frequently used” folders/files are “right there in front of me.”

5. Roboform password organizer. I use Roboform to automatically store and retrieve my login credentials when I use scholarly journals, my college library, and other places that require a password. Because I use different passwords for each site, and sometimes different email addresses, this saves time and distraction.

6. Dragon NaturallySpeaking. I use Dragon fairly frequently in grading papers in my courses (see “Speed Up Your Feedback” on The Electronic Professor blog at, but only occasionally in my textbook writing. It takes some time to “train” it to work well with your voice and diction, but it’s WELL worth it because it works very, very well. When training, you can add a list of words that it may stumble over, so I uploaded a text file of the index of each of my books. Then it asks you to say those it can’t figure out.

Some additional tips from Patton:

  • “I added my publisher’s medical dictionary to Word’s dictionary to avoid all those red squiggly lines that Word’s default dictionary doesn’t recognize.”
  • “I find that it really makes a huge difference in productivity when you use more than one monitor. It’s easy to set up and not very expensive, and will give you back years of your life and possibly lower your blood pressure. See my article, “Expand your view!” on The Textbook Author blog at I’m up to four monitors now. When working on my laptop, I can use Citrix GoToMyPC to work on my 4-monitor setup remotely.”

Patton is a professor of Life Science at St. Charles Community College and hosts two textbook blogs: The A&P Professor and The A&P Student.

Do you use any particular software tools when writing your textbook? Please share in the comments section below.